It’s a population so huge that no one, including the leaders of the Pentagon and the intelligence community, knows exactly how big it is. But given its scope and diversity, from people scooping chow in Afghanistan to handling the country’s most vital secrets, there are countless cracks through which information can escape.

Sunday’s revelation could make government leaders rethink the access now given to the private-sector companies that are inextricably tied to the functions of the intelligence and defense agencies. Obviously, leaks can come from inside the government too, as Washington learned when a young Army private named Bradley Manning grew disenchanted with the war he saw from his post in Iraq. But for now, The Guardian’s reporting puts contractors under a new microscope.

In one sense, Snowden is clearly unique, described as an intelligence worker who was so revolted by the surveillance apparatus he helped operate that he opted to face prosecution and flee into exile in order to expose it. Based on his account, his IT prowess seems to have overcome his incomplete formal education — which he told The Guardian amounted to a GED — and enabled him to achieve what he called “privileged access” working for the CIA and the National Security Agency…

Just the same, he could also be one of any number of the highly paid, white-collar “knowledge workers” in taupe cubicles throughout Virginia’s Fairfax County suburbs near the CIA, or along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway that runs past the Fort Meade headquarters of the NSA. Many of them were officers in the agencies for which they went on to consult — or in the case of the defense world, former generals or service members who crossed into a world of better pay, civilian attire and much less danger.